SPCA HAS RIGHT TO PRIVATE PROSECUTION

NATIONAL SOCIETY FOR THE PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO ANIMALS v MINISTER OF JUSTICE AND CONSTITUTIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND OTHERS 2017 (1) SACR 284 (CC)

 

Animal — Cruel ill-treatment — Prosecution of — Power of NSPCA to institute private prosecution.

 

The appellant appealed against decisions in the High Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal (the SCA), that held that it did not have the right to instigate a private prosecution against persons accused of violations of animal-cruelty legislation. The SCA held that the differentiation between natural persons and juristic persons in s 7(1)(a) of the Criminal Procedure Act (the CPA) — in respect of the power to institute private prosecutions and the policy of limiting private prosecutions to certain kinds of case — could not be faulted, and accordingly dismissed the appellant’s challenge to the constitutionality of that section. It further concluded that, read together, s 8 of the CPA and s 6(2)(e) of the Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 169 of 1993 (the SPCA Act) (which permitted the NSPCA to ‘institute legal proceedings connected with its functions’) did not grant the applicant the right to institute a private prosecution. On appeal,

Held, that on a plain textual reading, the term ‘institute legal proceedings’ in s 6(2)(e) could include the power to privately prosecute. The language used in the provision was broad and permissive and did not distinguish between civil and criminal proceedings. There was nothing in the text itself that excluded that power. (Paragraph [36] at 298e–f.)

Held, further, that since the applicant was explicitly charged with upholding the statutes in the animal-protection regime and preventing animal cruelty, the term ‘institute legal proceedings connected with its functions‘ had to be interpreted to encompass prosecutions of animal cruelty. Functionally, the applicant was best placed to conduct a private prosecution and give effect to preventing and enforcing the offences set out in the aforesaid regime. To understand the SPCA Act as conferring this power, was to give effect to the objects and purposes of the regime. Importantly, it gave effect to the applicant’s primary purpose to protect animal welfare. To read s 6(2)(e) as excluding the right of private prosecution would render the regime a toothless tiger. It was declared that the applicant had the statutory power of private prosecution conferred upon it by s 6(2)(e) of the SPCA Act read with s 8 of the CPA.

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